Have I got a website for you!
Yesterday evening, an email arrived in my inbox from my longtime friend and mentor, Mary Ann Baynton – with this subject line:
Finally! Here is the link to Working Through It. Please forward it to anyone who can use it or share it.
Mary Ann and I go back a long way, but that's another story.
For now, let me simply say that she has dedicated her life to changing the culture of Canadian workplaces – to help employees facing mental health issues and their employers. Most workplaces are pressure cookers of stress and anxiety, demands and deadlines. More so every day.
Some of us can be emotionally vulnerable to these tensions, triggers for our mental health problems. Some of us bring those issues with us, but secretly. Either way, the workplace can be daunting for everyone involved.
In Canada, that's been changing because of Mary Ann.
In 2001, she was developing an educational program to help equip employers with easy-to-learn skills and training strategies to appropriately accommodate their employees who may be facing mental health difficulties on the job. Touchy situations that Mary Ann, with her training and commitment knew could be successfully mediated. Especially if an employee can "coach up" and help a supervisor learn skills they've never been taught.
Through the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario) she launched Mental Health Works. Since then, this multi-faceted program has won awards and now is running in government, private companies and corporations in at least five provinces. It's a win-win-win.
There is no question that healthier workplaces with mentally and emotionally healthier and more resilient employees improve a company's bottom line! This has been proven time and again. Education is the key and Mary Ann's Complex Issues. Clear Solutions training and tools enables management to function more effectively – to discuss sensitive issues, resolve conflicts, create accommodations and avoid discrimination and human rights violations in the workplace.
A few years ago, Mary Ann began branching out and consulting. Now, she's consulting with CMHA and Mental Health Works but she's moved on.
Her newest venture is far more ambitious and delves deeper into the collective consciousness of people living with and struggling with mental health issues. Last night, I managed to track Mary Ann down at her home, where she was busy entertaining her extended family. She explained that in 2003 or 2004, a woman named Mandi Luis approached her at her CHMA (Ontario) office.
"She had to walk away from a 27-year banking career because of severe depression. No one was able to help her," and now she wanted to help prevent that happening for others who may find themselves in similar straits.
Mandi is now a peer support specialist – peer support could have helped her when she needed it most.
Mary Ann suggested Mandi write an article for Mental Health Works, which she did, but there was a problem.
"When I was really, really depressed, really sick, I wouldn't have been able to concentrate on an article like this. I couldn't focus," Mandi explained.
So what to do about Mandi's dilemma? How do you transmit information to people who are currently struggling and so mentally and emotionally stressed out they're not able to concentrate well enough to read? How do you reach them?
Mary Ann came up with a possible solution. How about short videos of people, real people, talking about their experiences?
In collaboration with Mental Health Works and The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO) with the funding of Great West Life, where Mary Ann is now consulting, a working group was formed and 10 people were carefully selected to share their experiences in front of a camera.
That's how Working Through It came about. This is an encyclopedic resource. Amazing. In all 31 videos. Short, byte-sized, none are more than three or four minutes. Several are even shorter than that. You can come and go, visit for a few minutes and then come back. Easily digestible and extraordinarily engaging.
There are 15 major themes, featuring four or five different people comfortably sharing segments of their stories of how they have "reclaimed their well-being at work, off work and returning to work."
"We wanted to use broad language that was entirely inclusive," Mary Ann explained when I asked why the word "recovery" was not used.
You'll meet and grow to know Gord Conley, Sean Miller, Phillipia Wright, Bonnie Pedota, Hazel Gabriel, Rose Pardham, Marvin Burr, Melonie Long, Donna Hardaker and Constantin Nastic as they open up their hearts and their hurts to you. Candidly, viscerally, they tell you about their lives with their mental health struggles and their triumphs.
Speaking out about tough stuff sometimes. But they are surprisingly comfortable in front of the camera. They talk about their deeply personal feelings, memories, insights and strategies. They share practical tidbits of life experience that they've developed in facing all kinds of challenges in getting well, staying well, and coping when they may not be well, all the time. Yes, they talk about what they do when things go wrong.
They talk about how they wish they could turn the clock back. How they wish they had sought help sooner. How facing the reality of their issues earlier may have saved them years of emotional anguish. Implicit is a sense that they want to help you to be more open to yourself, more honest. To refrain from denial and speak out. Open up. Don't go it alone.
"This can happen to anybody and it's very treatable if you recognize it," says Gord Conley.
We're all changing all the time. Life happens. Nothing stays the same. We all have set backs and they talk about theirs, too. And how they cope. What they do to prevent serious setbacks from reoccurring. All their support systems and strategies, from exercise and watching what you eat to taking your medication or going to regular 12-step program meetings. Whatever it takes. It's up to you.
They're tremendous likable people and I was overwhelmed by their generosity, bravery, sincerity and courage.
Why? Because they've been through it. They tell you about how they've worked through it, how painful at times this process it.
Most of all, they tell you and show you how you can feel better. How there is help out there.
They are the faces of hope. There are lots of different ways to get help and stay healthy. And most of all, they show you that you're not alone.
To be honest, when I first entered the sight, I didn't know where to begin. It's so comprehensive. Initially, you see a selection of titles including What is happening? Why is it such a struggle? and What should I say? and How can I manage financially? and How do I stay well? and more.
I've never been one to begin at the beginning of anything. Being perpetually backward, I chose to bypass the Introduction and instead, headed to the end, to the penultimate section called Never Give Up. That title spoke to me.
I pressed the little orange arrow. A screen popped up and a lovely, pleasant-looking gentleman started talking, followed by another, and then two women. They weren't edited. They were extraordinarily comfortable and easy to listen to as they talked their mental health problems. They looked and sounded liberated. Alive. Free.
I urge you to click onto Working Through It to see for yourself. No matter how you're feeling. There's so much information for you. Not only from these exceptional people, but specialists. Psychiatrists, leaders in the community who work to provide access to all kinds of support systems.
There's something for everybody here. Whether you are experiencing a mental health problem right now or you know or work with someone who is. University of Toronto Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Anthony Levitt talks about some startling statistics about how many people find the "right" help.
If you take 100 people with depression or anxiety, only 50 of them will recognize that they need help. Only 25 of them will look for that help. They may be prescribed one of 22 different medications or perhaps be offered one of five or six different kinds of talking therapy. That's 25%.
But here's what shocked me. Of that 25%, only 10% will follow through and receive the right treatment.
You have to work through it. And it's not always easy.
These videos are powerful gems of hope and inspiration. Melonie Long talking about how she cannot believe what would have happened "had I been successful in my suicide attempt..." and now "knowing what joy feels like," brought tears to my eyes.
You will be able to identify with these people. And there are loads of other resources embedded in this website. It's extremely user-friendly. One of the most exciting online mental health initiatives I've ever seen and experienced, anywhere.
This is another beginning for Mary Ann. "Next, we want to find out how we can help people get the right treatment, the help and support they really need, the first time – whatever it is."
Think of how revolutionary that will be. And how much needless suffering will come to an end.
Think of how healthy our society as a whole could be. Negative stereotypes will be smashed. Workplaces with thrive. More people will live meaningful productive lives.
Because we'll all feel more safe and secure Working Through It ourselves, with our families, our friends, our colleagues, our doctors. Everywhere. We'll be more comfortable with ourselves.
Bravo! Let's spread the word.